Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Registered Dietitian

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Registered Dietitian

Jillian Kubala, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian based in Westhampton, NY. She holds a master’s degree in nutrition from Stony Brook University School of Medicine as well as an undergraduate degree in nutrition science.

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April 26, 2023

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Caffeinated coffee can help boost energy, concentration, and productivity, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re a coffee lover who can’t tolerate caffeine or want to avoid caffeine for health reasons, then you may be wondering if you should switch to decaf and whether or not decaf coffee is good for you.

Here’s everything you need to know about decaf coffee, including what it is, how it compares to caffeinated coffee, and how it impacts health.


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What is decaf coffee?

All coffee starts as raw, green coffee beans. The beans are then roasted to create coffee products, like the whole bean and ground coffee you find on grocery store shelves. 

However, in order to remove caffeine from coffee beans, they must go through additional processing before they’re roasted. 

To make decaf coffee, green coffee beans are put through one of four decaffeination methods:

  • Soaking in water alone
  • Soaking in a mixture of water methylene chloride 
  • Soaking in a mixture of water and ethyl acetate
  • Soaking coffee beans in compressed carbon dioxide (CO2) and water


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Even though all of these methods are considered safe, the water-only method—also known as the Swiss water process1—is solvent-free and is the preferred method used to make organic decaf coffee. 

The main difference between decaffeinated coffee and regular coffee is that decaf coffee has had most of its caffeine removed. Yes, we said most.

Although you may think decaf coffee is completely free from caffeine, it’s not. “Decaffeinated coffee is a misnomer,” Ali Rezaie, M.D., MSc, medical director of the GI Motility Program at Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles, and on-staff physician for Good LFE, tells mindbodygreen. “There is still some caffeine in decaf coffee,” he says. 

How much caffeine is in decaf?

But how much caffeine should you expect to consume if you’re drinking a cup of decaf? 

The decaffeination methods2 used on decaf coffee typically remove around 97% of the caffeine in coffee beans. According to the National Coffee Association, a cup of decaf coffee only contains about 2 mg of caffeine. In comparison, a cup of caffeinated coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine. 

In addition to being much lower in caffeine than caffeinated coffee, decaf coffee has a different taste. The decaffeination process removes certain compounds called aroma precursors that give coffee beans their rich flavor. This often leads to a weaker and less complex taste2 than regular coffee.


A cup of decaf coffee will contain around 2 mg of caffeine, while a caffeinated coffee has around 95 mg.


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Benefits of decaf

Drinking coffee is associated with several health benefits, including protection against some diseases, like liver cancer. 

Even though decaf coffee is low in caffeine and tastes slightly different from regular coffee, they’re both packed with health-protective antioxidants like polyphenols3 and triterpenoids. This means that you won’t miss out on the impressive health benefits of coffee if you decide to switch to decaf. 

Although caffeinated coffee may be a better choice for those looking to boost energy, athletic performance, and focus, decaf coffee also offers a few unique health benefits of its own: 


It may help reduce blood sugar.

A 2021 review of 16 studies published in Medicina found that decaffeinated coffee reduced fasting blood sugar levels4 to a greater extent than caffeinated coffee. This may be because caffeine has a negative impact on short-term blood sugar control.

However, even though decaf coffee may have a more positive effect on short-term blood sugar levels, studies show that consumption of caffeinated coffee may benefit5 long-term blood sugar regulation. 


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It’s rich in polyphenols.

“Apart from caffeine, coffee contains many other bioactive compounds such as antioxidants, which offer multiple health benefits,” says Rezaie.

For example, decaf coffee is high in polyphenol compounds, including ferulic acid, chlorogenic acids, caffeic acid, quercetin, and quinic acid. These substances have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, and consuming a polyphenol-rich diet may help protect against health conditions such as neurodegenerative diseases6 and heart disease7.


It may protect against certain cancers.

A 2017 review in BMJ Open that included 26 studies found that increased consumption of both regular and decaf coffee was associated with a lower risk of hepatocellular carcinoma8 (HCC), the most common type of liver cancer. However, the review found that caffeinated coffee was more effective for lowering HCC risk.

A 2019 review published in the British Journal of Cancer also found that decaf coffee intake was associated with a lower risk of HCC9.

Additionally, studies show that drinking decaf coffee may help lower the risk of colorectal, colon, and rectal cancer10. Researchers think coffee is protective against cancer because it’s high in antioxidants, including phenolic acids and diterpenes. These compounds have been shown to have anticancer effects and may help inhibit the growth and progression of cancer cells. 


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It’s beneficial for liver health.

In addition to protecting against liver cancer, drinking decaf coffee can benefit liver health in general. A 2021 study in BMC Public Health found that, compared to people who didn’t drink coffee, people who drank decaf and regular coffee had a 20% lower risk of developing chronic liver disease, fatty liver, and liver cancer.

Ground coffee seemed to have the most potent effects, which the researchers attributed to its high concentration of the diterpenoid compounds kahweol and cafestol, which have powerful cellular-protective effects in the body.


It may protect against death from all causes.

Coffee is a rich source of protective substances that may help decrease cellular damage in the body, which protects against disease.

A 2017 study that included data on 521,330 people found that higher consumption of caffeinated and decaf coffee was associated with a lower risk of death from all causes11. Coffee intake seemed to be most effective for reducing death related to digestive and circulatory diseases. The results showed that coffee intake helped reduce inflammation and improve metabolic and liver health, which may explain why coffee drinkers are more likely to live a longer, healthier life. 

Keep in mind that while decaf coffee is linked to several health benefits, caffeinated coffee may be more effective for reducing the risk of certain conditions, such as liver cancer12, and boosting cognitive function13 and fat burning

Science showcase

If you’re at an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you might want to cut back on your decaf coffee intake. According to research findings, consuming decaf coffee may increase the risk of RA. Although the exact mechanism behind decaf coffee’s role in RA development is unclear, researchers think that chronic consumption of solvent residues found in decaf coffee could negatively affect health and ​​increase the risk of connective tissue disorders like RA. Although more research in this area is needed, people at high risk for RA may want to cut back on decaf coffee and switch to beverages known to protect against RA, like green tea

Reasons to drink decaf

Both decaf and caffeinated coffee are linked to impressive health benefits and can be enjoyed as part of a well-rounded diet. However, decaf may be a better choice for those sensitive to caffeine and people with certain medical conditions.

Here are a few reasons you may want to choose decaf coffee over caffeinated coffee:

  1. You have trouble sleeping: Caffeine helps you stay awake, which is why many people depend on coffee to get them through night shifts or marathon study sessions. Avoiding coffee before bed can help, but people who are sensitive to caffeine may experience sleep issues even when they consume caffeine earlier in the day thanks to its long half-life. A small 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that consuming 400 mg of caffeine—which equates to around four cups of coffee—six hours before bed more than doubled the time it took for participants to fall asleep14 and reduced total sleep time by one hour compared to a placebo. If you think that your coffee intake may be affecting your sleep, give decaf a try.
  2. You have a bladder issue: Caffeine is considered a bladder irritant and may worsen symptoms of bladder conditions like urinary tract infections and overactive bladder (OA)15. Health care providers often suggest that people with these health conditions limit or avoid caffeinated beverages to help reduce their symptoms. In some cases, decaf coffee may be a helpful alternative to caffeinated coffee for people with health conditions that affect their bladder. However, people with certain bladder conditions like interstitial cystitis (IC) may also experience symptoms from drinking decaf coffee. If you have a bladder condition, your health care provider can help you narrow down potential dietary triggers and recommend a safe alternative to caffeinated coffee. 
  3. You’re sensitive to caffeine: Some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others. Caffeine sensitivity16 has to do with genetics, which is why some people feel jittery and anxious after consuming a cup or two of coffee, while others can drink an espresso right before bed and immediately fall asleep. If you find that you’re sensitive to coffee and other caffeinated beverages, decaf may be a better option. 
  4. You’re stressed or anxious: Caffeine17 is a nervous system stimulant, meaning it increases levels of certain chemicals in your brain that make you feel more alert and energized. While this may be an upside for some people, those with anxiety often find that caffeine worsens symptoms like jitteriness, restlessness, and nervousness. If drinking caffeinated drinks makes you feel more stressed or anxious, consider switching to decaf. 

Decaf coffee can also be an excellent option for people who enjoy sipping coffee after dinner. Even though decaf coffee contains a small amount of caffeine, it’s unlikely to negatively impact your sleep like caffeinated coffee would. 

Additionally, decaf coffee can be helpful for people who need to limit their intake18 of caffeine, like pregnant and breastfeeding women and those with underlying health conditions like schizophrenia and tremors. 

If you’re looking to taper from full-caf to decaf, integrative doctor Vincent M. Pedre, M.D., recommends drinking half-regular and half-decaf coffee first, then gradually moving into 100% decaf over the course of three to seven days to minimize side effects.


Decaf coffee might be a better option for you if you struggle with anxiety, have problems falling or staying asleep, are sensitive to the impacts of caffeine, or have an underlying health issue. It has a similar taste and nutrition profile as coffee but with significantly less caffeine.

Reasons to drink caffeinated coffee

Even though caffeine isn’t the right choice for everyone, most people can safely enjoy caffeinated coffee daily. 

Regularly drinking caffeinated coffee has been linked to several health benefits, from protecting against liver disease to improving cognitive function13 in older adults. Plus, caffeine can be used as a natural way to boost energy levels and enhance athletic performance. Here are a few reasons you may want to reach for a cup of caffeinated coffee over decaf:

  1. You could use an energy boost: Most coffee drinkers crave the energy boost that comes after drinking a cup of coffee. Many people depend on coffee for a quick shot of energy to get them through their long workday or to help them concentrate on an important task, like studying for an exam. Caffeine increases your perception of wakefulness and alertness, so you’ll feel more energized after enjoying a coffee drink.  
  2. You’re using coffee to improve athletic performance: Caffeine is often used as a natural performance enhancer19 by athletes and gym-goers as it’s been shown to improve both aerobic and anaerobic exercise performance. It’s a common ingredient in pre-workouts, and some people drink a cup of coffee before their workout for a quick energy boost. If you’re using coffee to improve your athletic performance, caffeinated coffee is a better choice than decaf.   
  3. You’re looking for natural ways to improve cognitive health: Compared to decaf coffee, caffeinated coffee may be more effective for improving cognitive function in some populations. A 2020 study that included data on 2,513 people aged 60 years and older found that those who reported caffeinated coffee consumption reported better cognitive function13 than those who didn’t drink caffeinated coffee. Unfortunately, decaffeinated coffee was not associated with improvements in cognitive performance. Although the exact mechanism behind caffeine’s impact on cognitive health isn’t totally clear, researchers think caffeine helps improve cognitive function by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation and enhancing memory. 

If you’re a coffee lover, you switch between caffeinated and decaf coffee depending on the time of day or what you’re hoping to achieve. For example, if you need a natural energy boost before your workout, consider sipping on a cup of caffeinated coffee. On the other hand, decaf coffee is a smart choice if you’re craving a warming after-dinner drink that won’t interfere with your beauty sleep. 


Don’t have problems with caffeine? Consider drinking normal coffee over decaf coffee in the morning or before a workout. Thanks to its higher caffeine content, it’s more helpful for cognitive health, mental sharpness, and athletic performance.


Is it OK to drink decaf coffee every day?

Yes! It’s safe to drink decaf coffee daily. However, it’s important to pay attention to what you’re adding to your coffee. Some creamers and sweeteners can add a significant amount of calories and added sugar to your coffee drink, which can negatively impact health over time. It’s best to choose healthy coffee additives, such as unsweetened plant-based milks and sugar alternatives, or drink your coffee black

What are the side effects of decaf coffee?

Decaf coffee may worsen symptoms of certain medical conditions, like interstitial cystitis (IC). Plus, regular and decaf coffee can stimulate your bowels, which is why many people need to use the bathroom after drinking coffee. 

Why is decaf coffee healthy?

Decaf coffee and caffeinated coffee are both considered healthy beverages. Decaf coffee contains antioxidant compounds like phenolic acids, which can help protect against cellular damage and lower the risk of certain health conditions. 

The takeaway

While both caffeinated coffee and decaf coffee can fit into a healthy diet, decaf coffee is a better choice for people who are sensitive to caffeine and for those who need to avoid caffeine for medical reasons.

Decaf coffee is a good source of antioxidant compounds like phenolic acids, which can help protect against cellular damage. Plus, studies show that regularly drinking decaf coffee may help lower the risk of certain health conditions, like liver cancer. 

Whether you’re a caffeinated coffee lover or prefer decaf, it’s essential to enjoy your cup of joe in a healthy way. This means skipping sugary additives like flavored coffee creamers and enjoying your coffee black or opting for nutritious add-ins like collagen powder, instead.